What would have been my wedding anniversary just went by. While there are a lot of reasons it didn’t work out there’s one major one that sticks in my mind. We had a disagreement and the first words our of his mouth were, “when do you want to start divorce negotiations!” Admittedly I was no picnic to live with at this time. OK, I was going through withdrawal and in the middle of a complete rewrite of myself. He later tried to recant that statement, to excuse it, to claim he didn’t mean it. But those words were already in my head and there was no forgetting them.
The D word is one that can never be taken back. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. It’s one of a small handful of the ultimate emotionally manipulative cards that can be played in a relationship. How could I ever forget that when I was in crisis and needed patience and support the most this was his response? And he, of all people, should have most known that I don’t do threats or manipulation or emotional abuse. It really shouldn’t have been any surprise to him that after that I was done and done and done.
The thing is, MAKING THREATS of divorce, violence, suicide, etc. is ABUSE. If someone genuinely wants out of a relationship and wants a divorce they don’t use it as a way to get their way or coerce their soon-to-be former partner into compliance. The same thing with suicide threats. Struggling with depression, mental illness, suicidal thinking is one thing. There’s help available for that. But using it as a threat to hang over the neck of your partner, to keep the relationship entirely focused on you, to prevent them from having a voice or leaving, is just another form of coercion.
I’ve seen variations of the suicide threat in two relationships as well. The first time I was young and naive and didn’t get that it was manipulation and abuse. The second time I was a bit older and slightly wiser. The thing is, a genuine plea for help will not be cleverly timed to overwrite all of the other person’s needs. We sat down for a chat with a Pastor about some problems we were having and the first words out of his mouth were, “It would be easier to die!” Needless to say my concerns, the reasons I had reached out for help in the first place, went entirely unrecognized and undiscussed. I already had a sense that something was terribly wrong in the relationship, already felt that it was slowly sucking me dry. He was controlling and hypercritical and emotionally manipulative. But I thought it was worth working on and went for help.
This is another of those phrases I will have in my head, in his voice, forever. Once upon a time gets longer and longer ago everyday but I can still hear these threats, still feel the guillotine over my neck if I don’t comply. It’s a kind of violence that leaves scars even after the wounds are healed.
These threats, this kind of abuse, are guaranteed relationship killers. Even it they “work” and manipulate someone to stay, to attempt to meet the expectations of the abuser, to try to be “good enough” or “supportive enough” to prevent the threats from being carried out. Even in they “work” these threats have already ended the relationship, there can be no real relating or honest intimacy once such words have been spoken. They give voice to the abuser’s complete and utter unwillingness to be a partner and they make sure that if the relationship does continue it is entirely on their terms.
Threatening divorce, suicide, or any form of violence is flat-out, bottom-line, ABUSE. Threats, or their insinuation, is emotional manipulation and control. They are part of the cycle of violence and huge red-flags for a potentially lethal relationship.